We can order groceries online and either have them brought to our car in the parking lot without having to enter a store or have them delivered to our house. And that information we freely provide on Facebook and Instagram has allowed aspiring entrepreneurs to target us down to a specific niche with products we didn’t realize we wanted and most likely don’t need.
But perhaps it takes a pandemic for us to appreciate this technology and expand it. Because there are many other areas of our lives that could be positively impacted by technology, if only we would allow it.
As the coronavirus began to spread, two of the immediate healthcare concerns revolved around limited access to medical professionals and a fear of being in the same facility of someone who has the virus. After all, we’re supposed to be social distancing. Thankfully, telemedicine is available to provide you healthcare access in your living room.
To expand access, we began to see states waive the requirement that you can only use an in-state physician in March. Mississippi did that. And then just as quickly walked back that change to only allow this if you have a prior patient-physician relationship, greatly limiting your options as a consumer. Mississippians should be able to access the doctor or nurse practitioner of their choosing, regardless of the state they are licensed and whether or not you have had a previous face-to-face visit.
The same story holds in education. As every school in the state was shut down, an order from Gov. Tate Reeves called for all school districts to adopt distance learning for their students. Prior to that, Mississippi has had a number of chances to make online learning a reality. Unfortunately, the decision makers have shown no interest in the idea.
Mississippi has a virtual public school, but it’s simply a couple courses a student can take, not a full distance learning program. Every student in the state should have the ability to choose from a plethora of digital options to serve their needs. We are told how hard it is to bring teachers for specific subjects to the most rural or impoverished regions of the state. This could fill that void.
Moreover, virtual charter schools are prohibited in Mississippi’s limited charter law. Some states even have a hybrid mix of homeschool/ charter school facilities where students attend a couple days per week while still doing most of their education at home. Families are able to decide if and what is the best option for their children. Some do a 100 percent virtual program. But not here.
And the renewal of the Education Scholarship Account program for students with special needs strips online learning from the inclusion of educational expenses families can be reimbursed for, a move that was championed by opponents of the program. It hasn’t exactly aged well.
Where else do we limit technology? After healthcare regulations, the most commonly lifted regulations during the pandemic revolved around alcohol. Which makes sense because it is one of the most overregulated industries, often related to prohibition-era policies.
In another move that hasn’t aged well, the Senate soundly defeated a bill to allow direct shipment of wine to your house just a couple days before the legislature originally recessed. We then saw some alcohol regulations lifted by the Department of Revenue, but having alcohol delivered to your door – either what you purchase from a winery in California or by using a delivery app like Drizly, which functions similar to Uber Eats or DoorDash – remains illegal.
Is this the most important issue in the state? Obviously not. But it is symbolic of a state that often does not trust its citizens to make the best decision for themselves and rewards incumbents who play the political game. The technology is there, whether it’s for your child’s education, to sell food you make from home online, or something that an entrepreneur creates tomorrow, we just need to let it happen. Unleash technology and consumers will benefit.
This column appeared in the Meridian Star on May 8, 2020.